(First Things) - At an academic conference a while ago, I made an offhand reference to the contemporary persecution of Christians. My remark was greeted with some incredulity, even derision. There are, one scholar responded sarcastically, something like two billion Christians in the world today. “Next you’ll be telling us a billion Chinese are also in need of protection.”
The failure of many opinion leaders in the West to acknowledge what’s happening to Christians around the world results from many factors, including, as I’ve written, a kind of psychological disconnect. Western liberals are not accustomed to seeing Christians as sympathetic victims, but as adversaries to be resisted. The idea that Christians might be suffering from persecution ruins the narrative.
An article from last week’s Washington Post might change some minds. In response to increasing attacks on them since the revolution that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, Egypt’s Copts are showing a new assertiveness. Traditionally, Coptic leaders keep a low profile, avoiding confrontation with authorities. Now, however, Copts are adopting a more confrontational approach, vocally protesting the wrongs being done them:
Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, has vowed to promote equality between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christian minority. But Christians have been worried by the growing influence in society and government of Muslim conservatives and hard-liners, many of whom espouse rhetoric consigning Christians to second-class status.
A mob attack this month on the Cairo cathedral that serves as the seat of the Coptic pope raised alarm bells among Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 90 million people. There has been a surge in attacks on Christians and churches in the two years since the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. But for Christians, the cathedral violence laid bare their vulnerability. Morsi quickly condemned the violence, saying attacking the cathedral was like attacking him personally. But the Coptic Pope Tawadros II accused him of failing to protect the cathedral in an unprecedented direct criticism.
Copts have no illusions about the possible consequences of their new assertiveness: more persecution. But it seems a price they’re willing to pay. A senior Coptic monk told the AP, “Our church grows stronger with martyrdom. My faith and confidence tell me that so long as our church is in the hands of God, no one can hurt it.”